It’s become Donald Trump’s most shared tweet ever, but for the man who created the video showing the U.S. president body-slamming CNN, it has drawn unwanted attention and a threat from CNN that if he does anything like this again, they’ll reveal his identity to the world.
CNN published a report Wednesday morning revealing how it tracked down the person responsible for creating and posting the video on Reddit. The middle-aged man has since apologized for creating the video, deleted his previous comments, and had his Reddit account suspended. More seriously, while CNN decided not to publish his name, it has reserved the right to do so should the man ever “repeat this ugly behavior on social media again.”
This has led to some on social media to accuse CNN and its reporter Andrew Kaczynski of threatening and blackmailing the video creator, using the hashtag #CNNBlackmail. In a response to the allegations Wednesday morning, however, CNN said it decided not to publish the “adult male’s” name out of concern for his safety and “never made a deal, of any kind,” with him.
Here’s how the leader of the free world came to retweet that GIF:
- On June 29, a Reddit user with the handle HansAssholeSolo posted a crudely edited video of Trump body-slamming WWE promoter Vince McMahon at WrestleMania 23 in 2007 — except in his version of the video, a CNN logo replaced McMahon’s head.
- The video gained little attention until July 2, when Donald Trump tweeted it to his more than 33 million followers with the hashtags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN. For good measure the official @POTUS account also retweeted it. The White House has denied the president sourced the video from Reddit but has not clarified where it came from.
- The tweet has become Trump’s most shared tweet of all time, outpacing his celebratory tweet on Election Day last November.
- Immediately the search began to identify the source of the video, leading many to Reddit, and to The Donald subreddit in particular. The pro-Trump enclave has become well-known for spreading fake news, InfoWars-style conspiracies, and hate speech.
- HansAssholeSolo was a frequent commenter on The_Donald, and he initially appeared to be over the moon that Trump had tweeted his video: “Wow!! I never expected my meme to be retweeted by the God Emperor himself!!!” he said Sunday. Once he began to fear his true identity would be revealed, he deleted his previous comments, which included multiple anti-Muslim slurs, sexist comments, and the use of the N-word.
- Before he could get rid of his commenting history entirely, Quartz took screenshots of his musings and preserved them online for all to see.
- While some in the right-wing media claimed Trump was just having a laugh by posting the video, most news organizations were quick to point out the implicit threat of violence in the message. CNN said: “It is a sad day when the president of the United States encourages violence against reporters,” adding, “he is involved in juvenile behavior far below the dignity of his office. We will keep doing our jobs. He should start doing his.”
- On Tuesday, July 4, HansAssholeSole posted an apology on Reddit: “I would also like to apologize for the posts made that were racist, bigoted, and anti-Semitic. I am in no way this kind of person, I love and accept people of all walks of life and have done so for my entire life. I am not the person that the media portrays me to be in real life, I was trolling and posting things to get a reaction from the subs on reddit and never meant any of the hateful things I said in those posts.”
- On Wednesday morning CNN published its report about tracking down HansAssholeSolo, saying that it was “able to determine key biographical details, to find the man’s name using a Facebook search and ultimately corroborate details he had made available on Reddit.” Some on social media — including Trump’s son Donald Jr. — claimed CNN was harassing a 15-year-old boy, until Kaczynski pointed out that HansAssholeSolo was a middle-aged man.
- Kaczynski spoke with the man after he posted his apology, saying he “sounded nervous about his identity being revealed and asked to not be named out of fear for his personal safety and for the public embarrassment it would bring to him and his family.”
- CNN decided not to publish the man’s name, explaining that he was a private citizen, and he’d issued an apology, showed remorse, and promised not to “repeat this ugly behavior on social media again.” The report added: “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
- This final line has led many to question CNN’s conditions of anonymity, which it has not made explicit yet. Journalists’ sources are typically protected to ensure the sources’ safety or maintain the relationship between source and reporter. The report has led many alt-right Trump supporters to accuse CNN of blackmail.
- Kazcynski responded by saying the line in the report has been misinterpreted. “It was intended only to mean we made no agreement with the man about his identity,” the reporter tweeted in response to criticism.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 1:34 p.m. ET to reflect CNN’s response to allegations of blackmail.